Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What's Eating Archie Gilbert? Nothing Much Anymore


When former Cal State, East Bay outfielder Archie Gilbert was named to the California League All-Star team last month, he awaited his limousine while dressed to the nines.

Stockton Ports (Class A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics) hitting coach Tim Garland teased Gilbert about his choice of a classy sports suit over the other All-Star’s simple collared dress shirts and slacks.

“You’re dressed to kill ain’t you little Archie,” said Garland.

“I’m going to be a big leaguer one day, so I better start acting like one,” Garland recalls Gilbert saying.

The times have not always been so good for the five-foot-eight package of speed and power Gilbert has become this season in Stockton.

During his playing days at CSUEB from 2002-2005, Gilbert’s career numbers would allow anyone to credibly argue he is statistically the greatest Pioneer baseball player in the school’s history.

He owns nearly every career mark, excluding home runs and batting average, where he ranks second and seventh, respectively.

Nonetheless, Gilbert was scouting by the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants, but ultimately went undrafted his senior year.

“They said he’s 21-years-old, this is probably the highest his ceiling is going to get,” said Gilbert.
Part of the problem Gilbert believes is that playing Division III baseball had certain disadvantages to may have hampered his development.

“At a D-III school—I wouldn’t knock it—but, we don’t have the time, we don’t have the equipment, we don’t have coaches you could really relate to as a player,” said Gilbert, “We had a coach you knew a lot about hitting, but he was old school, he couldn’t really relate to the hitters. I know what he’s talking about now that I’m older, but back then he didn’t really have the time to explain how to hit.”

Gilbert signed with the Boston Red Sox organization as an undrafted free agent in 2005 but suffered an immediate setback when an inside fastball broke his pinky finger just 40 at-bats into his professional career.

The following spring, the first major disappointment in his life was handed down from the front office.

“They said we have to let you go, but we think you can play somewhere,” said Gilbert, “I was like, ‘I want to play here’, and I think that was the best thing for me. That was the first time I ever saw failure like that, but I knew I wasn’t done.”

Besides the injury the preceding season, Gilbert was the victim of a numbers game within the Boston organization where a number of high-priced talent would be assured playing time over Gilbert.

“I’m glad they did it then because they could have left me to rot on the bench,” recalls Gilbert.
Three weeks later, the Chicago White Sox organization offered Gilbert a chance to play, but again he was relegated to the bench at Class A Great Falls (Mont.) and Kannapolis (N.C.).
Around this time, despite limited playing time, Gilbert began to apply himself to improving his game.

He met a ballplayer named Jack Gifford who introduced him to his workout partner Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Eric Byrnes.

“He said go to San Mateo and workout with these guys. I didn’t even know who I was going to meet until Eric Byrnes comes up to me and says, ‘Are you Archie?’”

Gilbert credits Byrnes’s workout program to his improvement as a ballplayer and tries to emulate the scrappy outfielder’s energetic style.

Another move was in the offing when the White Sox organization dragged its feet in offering Gilbert a new contract.

Gilbert said seven teams contacted him and Oakland offered him the best deal with a chance at increased playing time.

Incidentally, coming back to Northern California to play in the Athletics’ organization wasn’t a dream come true for the Union City native who grew up a Giants fan and a follower of Barry Bonds.

Gilbert says having his mother, who still lives in the East Bay, and his older brother who lives in nearby Tracy, along with the somewhat mild temperatures was a plus in signing with the Stockton Ports.

Gilbert’s father died when he was 13 and said his mother was both a mom and dad for him growing up.

Besides, he says, “I wasn’t that bad of a kid, so it wasn’t hard for her to raise me.”
All the trials Gilbert has endured through his brief baseball career seem to have paid off this season.

He started the season on a tear, hitting .356 in April and stayed hot well into May with a 25-game hitting streak that fell just short of the California League record.

Gilbert seems to have a knack for long hitting streak. He also holds the CSUEB record with a 36-game streak in 2004.

“He makes contact and he doesn’t strikeout a lot,” said Garland, “He puts the ball in play and because of his speed he gets some hits the average ballplayer doesn’t get. He doesn’t get deep in counts so the pitcher isn’t allowed to throw him their put away pitches.”

Along with his selection to Class A All-Star Game where he started in leftfield and knocked in the Cal League’s only run in a 3-1 loss to the Carolina League June 24, Gilbert also hit for the cycle with a home run, triple, double and a single June 19 against High Desert.

“At the All-Star Game I just sat back at thought I used to sit the bench. I got released. I must have done some kind of work to get here,” said Gilbert.

The maturation of Gilbert has become evident to many around the Ports ball club, including fans, numerous members of the media and the coaching staff.

Ports Manager Darren Bush sees a professional ballplayer who takes his career seriously.
“We know Archie works on his game everyday,” said Bush, “At the end of the day I know Archie is going to give everything he has.”

Garland says Gilbert is “very serious about his career” and often times practices without the use of the staff.

“I still have fun, but I don’t take any time off, this is my job,” said Gilbert, “Basically, six days a week I’m doing something with baseball. I’m always trying to look for ways to elevate my game.
I got a lot of people saying I can’t do this and it’s not going to happen. I can feel doors starting to open so I’m kind of pushing a little stronger.”

According to Garland, Gilbert needs to utilize his blazing speed more often. After working with Gilbert on bunting drills Friday afternoon, he quickly applied the lesson during that night’s game against Lake Elsinore.

The bunt attempt for a base hit was ultimately fielded by the first baseman who beat Gilbert to the bag, but not without Gilbert tenaciously diving through the air.

“I think he has a shot at being a solid big league ballplayer. He’s still has some development,” said Garland, “He needs to bunt more because that’s a tool he has that he doesn’t utilize for me.”
Garland has a certain affinity for small, speedy leadoff hitters like Gilbert because he was once one during his 15-year professional career.

“He’s a pest on the base paths. He’ll cause havoc and they will start worrying about him and the next three guys are hitting fastballs down the middle of the plate,” said Garland, “And you can’t walk him because he’ll steal second. He’s an exciting player.”

Garland believes that Gilbert could be the type of player who hits 25 home runs in the big leagues.

“He’s made me say ‘Wow’ on some of his homeruns this year,” said Garland.
Gilbert’s batting stance is a bit curious.

At the plate, he stands upright but bends his back knee in way that looks similar to a guy partially sitting on a stool while his elbow rests on the bar.

“I make fun of him all the time. It looks like he’s sitting in a rocking chair,” said Garland, “I told him if you’re going to hit like this, this is what you have to do.”

Garland only tinkered with Gilbert’s hands to get them in a loaded position which has helped him successfully tear through any fastballs over the plate.

Garland says he not a stickler on batting stances, just the outcome.

“It doesn’t matter how you start. The result is you have to get the ball at the same point of contact. I don’t care if you’re standing on your head as long as you flip over in time and hit the ball at the point of contact,” said Garland.

If there is a hole in Gilbert’s game, it’s his throwing arm.

While Gilbert’s defensive skills in leftfield are considerable, Garland says he’s made some of the most exciting plays he’s ever seen his arm strength is average according to Garland and with
improvement would still be average by Major League standards.

But, again, if you doubt Gilbert you run the risk of looking foolish.

He’s seriously when he says “When people tell me I can’t do something, I want to show them that I could.”

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